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Steel processor drives productivity with operational excellence

-- Success Story --

Steel processor drives productivity with operational excellence

Dudley-based Servosteel — a company with a multi-million-pound turnover and a 30-year history — is the UK’s largest independent steel toll processor. With 92 staff and the capacity to process up to 500,000 tonnes of steel annually, it has become known in the industry as the “one-stop steel shop.”

“We process steel for our own customers as well as on behalf of our toll customers in the UK steel market” explains Darryl Macready, Servosteel's Operations Director. “For instance, our slitting lines can process 20 tonne-plus wide steel coil into smaller slit coils. Meanwhile, our decoiling capabilities can turn wide steel coils into flat-packed steel, bespoke to a customer's measurements; and we have the UK's only independently owned pickle line, where steel coils are processed through acid pickling tanks to remove surface scale or rust.” In addition to these services, Servosteel operates the UK's only coil recovery line, the SCS (Smooth Clean Surface) which can return damaged or degraded steel coils back to their full potential; through a series of engineered abrasive rolls, wash system and tension leveling. And to compliment the “one stop steel shop” mantra, Servosteel also offer Laser processing, Press-braking and Blanking to complete their processing services to the market place.

A solid overview

IT systems are crucial to the smooth running of the business. “Our business system logs and monitors the start and stop times of every job we do,” says Darryl. “We can see when a machine is running when it stops, when it's waiting and when it's broken down. IT gives us an immediate live view of everything going on in our warehouse and a huge amount of data is captured which enables us to have a live picture of what we could and should achieve, versus what we actually achieve.”

Yet Servosteel's growing suite of services, excellent reputation within the steel industry and expanding customer base means that Darryl and his team are dealing with increasingly busy workloads. As such, the company doesn't always have the time to study the rich variety of data it produces in order to improve its production processes and make efficiency gains.

For instance, Servosteel knew that production bottlenecks were being created on its slitting lines, affecting its ability to achieve its target output, measured in tonnes per hour. Pressure of work prevented a deeper investigation of the issue. “Finding out how these bottlenecks were forming was something that could have been done in-house, yet we simply didn't have the time to do it ourselves,” admits Darryl. What was needed was outside help that could dig into the slitting line data to identify why these issues were occurring and how they could be overcome.

The power of three

Servosteel had been introduced to WMG some years before at a Made in the Midlands networking event and approached the organization’s dedicated SME Group to find out how it would tackle the problem. “WMG has a trusted reputation and extensive knowledge on sustainable manufacturing processes,” notes Darryl. “Being an independent authority, we felt they had our best interests in mind.” After a thorough discussion of Servosteel's requirements, WMG decided that its internship scheme would be the best way to address the company's slitting line challenges. Apart from giving Servosteel access to WMG expertise and equipment, it would also lend them the services of a talented and eager intern supervised by WMG's technical experts.

Due to the broad scope and tight timescale of the project, three manufacturing engineering undergraduates with expertise in data analysis were assigned to Servosteel as company interns in mid-2019. Alvaro Amoedo, Paul Bauer and Mohammed Ismael — all from the University of Warwick — mapping out the factory floor movements and the production flow from end to end, indicating the value-added at each stage and identifying the main process bottlenecks. The interns then used this information to create a data model to predict the best, most frictionless production stream, and identified three main areas for improvement on the shop floor: prioritisation model, improvements to the changeovers to reduce downtime, and implementing the principles of the ‘5S’ system to organise workspaces, help reduce waste and optimise productivity.

Unalloyed success

The analysis helped Servosteel identify where valuable time was being lost. For example, by mapping the travel routes of its slitting line operators, the business was able to reduce their total travel distance; while a new approach to changeovers meant there was a significant reduction in downtime on the slitting line machinery. Ultimately, the interns found that if all their recommended changes were made, Servosteel would be able to gain an improved efficiency in the short term and with further gains in the long term. “We haven't yet been able to implement all of WMG's recommendations,” says Darryl. “But where we have, and by implementing our own analysis, we have seen some significant gains.”

Darryl was pleased with the work the WMG interns produced. “They were very attentive, good at communicating and interested in what we were doing, and their final presentation was extremely impressive,” he says. “On the slitting line machine they assessed, we have seen a significant improvement in both productivity and efficiency.” Apart from giving Servosteel's line more capacity in the short-term, the interns' data analysis has given the company reassurance that it can run at a higher throughput. The business now aims to use WMG's results to meet predicted outcomes, and also apply them to other processes on-site to improve efficiencies elsewhere.

“It was great to be able to help Servosteel improve their efficiency and achieve their targets,” says Onur Eren, Innovation Manager at WMG. “Alvaro, Paul and Mohammed found out an exceptional amount about how Servosteel could improve time and cost savings on its slitting line by observing operations, talking to operators, and understanding what could be done to make their jobs easier. But it was a two-way street because this project also provided our interns with valuable industrial experience.”

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